2022 MRE Journalism Contest winners announced

WASHINGTON, June 2 — The Military Reporters & Editors announced the winners of its 2022 journalism awards for work completed in 2021.

“My deepest congratulations to the winners of this year’s contest,” MRE President, Jeff Schogol, said on Thursday. “Your contributions to journalism have helped to illuminate issues that powerful interests don’t want the American public to see.”

The entries for this year’s contest were judged by the following members of the Medill School of Journalism:  Senior Lecturer Ivan Meyers; Assistant Professor Matthew Orr; Adjunct Lecturer Storer Rowley; Professor Ellen Shearer; Associate Professor Elizabeth Shogren.

Below are the winners.

The Joe Galloway Award
Afghan Pilots Targeted for Assassination as the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, Reuters reporters Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Hamid Shalizi

These well-reported stories were the first to reveal the Taliban’s targeted assassination campaign against Afghan Air Force pilots in the months before the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Stewart also delved into the aftermath of the war and followed up on Afghan pilots trained by the United States who had scattered, some flying their planes to neighboring countries and ending up in detention facilities waiting for America to rescue them and collect their combat aircraft. This work was cited by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction office in its final report to Congress before the war ended and prompted congressional scrutiny of the Biden administration’s handling of the matter and promises from the secretary of defense to take action.

The James Crawley Award
AWOL weapons: ’Explosive’ investigation of missing military ordnance by Kristin Hall, James LaPorta and Justin Pritchard of The Associated Press, with data editor Justin Myers

This AP team created an important database showing the military had lost track of thousands of weapons, many more than it publicly acknowledged, and some of those weapons were used in crimes in the U.S. Because of AP’s years of work to compile numbers of lost weapons despite stonewalling from the military, Congress now has required the Pentagon to submit detailed annual reports on weapons losses, and the Army as well as other services have created new accountability systems for their weapons.

Domestic Coverage – Large Newspapers, Online or Magazines
Army didn’t prosecute NCO accused of rape. So he did it again. And again – by Kyle Rempfer of the Army Times

This gripping tale of a serial rapist who was allowed to commit his crimes while the Army looked the other way provides a detailed, albeit depressing, look at how Army procedures allow commanders to look the other way as rape victims try to get justice. The amount of reporting in the story – and the sensitivity in the writing – are exemplary. The judges couldn’t put it down, riveted by interweaving the survivors’ voices with the Army procedures and lack of accountability that led to his repeated crimes.

Honorable Mention
These Marines Devoted Their Lives to the Corps. Then They Were Singled Out for Having Children – by Gina Harkins of Military.com

This riveting story provides detailed evidence of the Marine Corps’ systemic discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers, despite repeated assurances that they would be treated fairly. As Harkins wrote, Marine Corps leaders “often don’t know how to deal with pregnancy and postpartum issues.”

Domestic Coverage – Small Newspapers, Online or Magazines
Burying the Evidence by Jonathan Guyer of The American Prospect

This reporting uncovers how three administrations have knowingly underestimated sexual assaults in the military by failing to fix the faulty data-keeping system. Through interviews and previously undisclosed documents Guyer gives readers an inside look into how a group of Pentagon data experts at the Defense Digital Service reported the problem to top brass and proposed solutions but were rebuffed and ignored. “The existence of this report makes it clear that the Defense Department knew about its sexual assault data collection problems years ago, but chose to bury them rather than address them,” Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand said. Congressional committees are following up the wrongdoings exposed by Guyer’s reporting.

Honorable Mention
Wave of Suicides Hits Texas National Guard’s Border MissionDavis Winkie of Army Times

These investigative, impactful stories expose the high cost for Texas National Guard troops sent to patrol the border without proper preparation or leadership. His dogged data mining and deep sourcing tell the troubling story of a mission in disarray. He documents suicides and widespread drug, crime and alcohol abuse and car accidents. His nuanced stories reflect his deep understanding of the National Guard.

Overseas Coverage —Large Newspapers, Online or Magazines
Series of Articles, especially What Did We Leave Behind When We Left Afghanistan –by Nolan Peterson, Matt White and Jariko Denman of Coffee or Die magazine

The three first-person articles on the chaotic evacuation of Kabul, an inquiry into reports one U.S. C-17 transport jet flew out a record 800 people on one flight, and a poignant, in-depth look at what Americans left behind after the war in Afghanistan; as well as a fourth first-person piece on the World War I kind of trench warfare with modern weapons that settled into eastern Ukraine with Kyiv’s joint military forces battling Russian regulars and Russian separatists for years prior to Russia’s full scale invasion of its neighbor. Peterson’s work, in particular, is noteworthy and exceptional, with strongly written, deeply reported and empathetically crafted storytelling in the piece “What did we leave behind when we left Afghanistan,” which revealed candid, on-the-record, thoughtful, sometimes heartbreaking viewpoints, memories, emotions, gifts and losses among U.S. servicemen and women who left part of themselves and so much more behind there.

Honorable Mention
Escape from Afghanistan: One Interpreter’s Desperate Run Past the Taliban to Safety — by Stephen Losey of Military.com

This was a compelling, timely and detailed account of the harrowing journey of “Said,” an Afghan interpreter who had helped the U.S. military, trying to escape from Kabul with his family and seeking help from the American government, the Marines at the Abbey Gate and private groups in the U.S., during the dangerous, uncertain final days of the war as America’s chaotic evacuation was in full swing. Losey’s day-by-day account of Said’s family’s perilous journey–and his own efforts to help as best he could—captures a compelling story of missed opportunities, narrow escapes, cellphones dying and futile efforts by so many to get a Special Immigrant Visa that could get them out and save them from the Taliban’s retribution. It’s a story many journalists who covered the war understand and wrote about as they tried to help their own Afghan interpreters, some of them friends, escape Afghanistan during the fall of Kabul and since.

Overseas Coverage —Small Newspapers, Online or Magazines
The AFRICOM Files by Nick Turse of Type Investigations and The Intercept

The AFRICOM Files examines the Pentagon’s multiple failures in undercounting cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the U.S. military’s Africa operations over the years, as well as conduct in the military chain of command that either actively discouraged or ignored the allegations of soldiers reporting these assaults Africa. The investigation, with research assistance provided by Darya Marchenkova, used military criminal investigations records obtained by FOIA requests and interviews with other sources to demonstrate there were at least 158 allegations of sexual offenses in the AFRICOM area of operations logged by military criminal investigators between 2010 and 2020, a period for which the Pentagon lists just 73 cases of sexual assault. The reporting has drawn intense scrutiny in Congress and calls for reform endorsed by the Biden administration.

Overseas or Domestic Coverage – Large-Market Television, Broadcast and Cable Networks
In the Trenches of Russia’s War Against Ukraine — by Nolan Peterson of Coffee or Die magazine

Coffee or Die provided an intimate and intense look at Ukraine’s eastern war zone just weeks before Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country. Reporter Nolan Peterson embedded with the Ukrainian military and skillfully shows how Ukrainian forces defend their land by using a mix of modern weapons and trench warfare. The story was expertly reported and produced.

Overseas or Domestic Coverage – Small-Market Television
The 2021 Honor Flight to Washington D.C. – Greg Turnbow’s War Story — by Cody Rheault of War Stories, published in the Central Oregon Daily News

This is a beautifully told story about Gregory Turnbow, a Vietnam veteran from Oregon who, along with his wife, takes an honor flight to Washington, D.C., and recalls his experiences serving in the military. Cody Rheault’s short film was elegantly conveyed with remarkable sensitivity and respect for his subject.

Series of Articles — by Carl Forsling of Coffee or Die magazine

Carl Forsling wrote outstanding opinion pieces on military doctrine and the changes that need to be made in preparing for America’s next wars, especially his exceptional look at the history of counterinsurgency theory and the tragic mistakes made by the U.S. and other nations in waging wars in other countries where the governments ultimately do not have the legitimacy of public support. He explores with a veteran’s nuanced understanding the failures of the French in Algeria and the U.S. in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. His other well-researched pieces thoughtfully questioned whether — and how — the Air Force should find a needed light aircraft successor to the aging workhorse A-10 close air support attack warplane; and how the Navy needs to re-examine its shipbuilding missteps and redesign its fleet more intelligently for the threats of the next 30 years.

Female Marines Attempt To Shatter Segregated Boot Camp – by Steve Walsh of NPR

This collection of radio stories from Steve Walsh covers various aspects of the recent integration of women into the Marine Corps boot camp and combat roles. The Marines are the last service to open up boot camp to women, by Congressional mandate. It’s personal, immersive and powerful in that it expresses the excitement and undercurrent of this new change by advocates, but also highlights the struggles and unacceptable events that make this change even more important. Opponents have only inspired this inaugural group of to push harder and grow their individual and collective confidence.

Student Project
Biden’s 9/11 declassification order renews debate over secrecy vs. transparency – by Gabriel Pietrorazio for the Capital News Service

Twenty years after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to review related records for declassification within six months. But to what extent can that be done safely and efficiently? The reporting explores the nuances involved in reviewing documents for declassification under budget and resource constraints. While proponents push for transparency and accountability, others stress how reviewing documents is not as simple or straightforward as it may seem. While the executive order relates to Sept. 11, the classification system itself is in severe need of overhaul and modernization; it will take significant effort to make that a reality. The reporting traverses various viewpoints with ease and leaves the reader with a solid high-level overview of the issues.